Migration and the French Colonial Atlantic as Imagined by the Periodical Press, 1740–61
Why did the French show so little enthusiasm for emigration to their early modern colonies, compared to other European peoples? In 2006, historian Yves Landry proposed that the image of America communicated to the French reading public by print media might have played a role in this phenomenon. This article examines this question by showing how America in general, and French colonies in particular, were represented in the Ancien Régime's three most prominent periodicals: the weekly news Gazette, the literary Mercure de France and the learned Journal des Savants. Through a combination of distant reading methods, the article builds a three-layered portrait of the New World as displayed to French readers. The first layer, made up of references to America in theater, games and other cultural artefacts built upon common knowledge, shows an unchanging, alien land filled with riches and glory for the few, mortal threats for the many, and the best, perhaps, set aside for foreigners. A second layer, made up of the periodicals' coverage of the slow production of knowledge through science and exploration, edulcorates this picture to some extent by showing that the New World is in the process of being domesticated, but that this process is very much still in its infancy. Finally, the top layer, represented by the Gazette's news coverage, shows a French colonial world that is dominated by Britain, virtually invisible in peacetime, and fraught with chaos at every moment. This top layer is especially important since it was the only one visible to the majority of readers, as the Gazette reached an audience perhaps ten times larger than the other periodicals. Therefore, the article largely supports the original hypothesis.
Copyright (c) 2019 François Dominic Laramée
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